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Galef, D. (1998). Fetishism in The Spoils of Poynton. Fotios Sarris. Nineteenth Century Literature. LI, i, 1996. Pp. 53-82. Psychoanal Q., 67(1):184.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Fetishism in The Spoils of Poynton. Fotios Sarris. Nineteenth Century Literature. LI, i, 1996. Pp. 53-82

(1998). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 67(1):184

Fetishism in The Spoils of Poynton. Fotios Sarris. Nineteenth Century Literature. LI, i, 1996. Pp. 53-82

David Galef

Few modern authors have pursued the fetishistic interest in detail that Henry James shows in his work. In fact, The Spoils of Poynton (1897) is all about a dead man's will and the bequeathing of some furniture—“a story of cabinets and tables and chairs,” as James writes in his preface. The agony of the widow, Mrs. Gereth, concerns whether her crass daughter-in-law is the kind of woman to appreciate the fine objects her husband will soon come to possess.

Sarris analyzes this obsession in the novel through several views of fetishism. One image is through the lens of Marx's commodity fetishism, in which the fetish is a product of labor detached from its origins, passing itself off as an autonomous object. In other words, Mrs. Gereth worships the beauty of the furniture without sufficient recognition of its hard-earned value. But Sarris moves beyond the economics of art to the economy of sex, or from Marx to Freud, in whose work the fetish is defined as a substitute for the absent female phallus. To correct such a male-centered slant and apply it to the female characters in the novel, Sarris brings in Lacan, who uses the term castration to refer to the rupture in the imaginary realm between the child and the mother, as the individual moves to the symbolic or social phase. Compensating for this presocial self are attachments to objects. In the end, James's widow projects a desire all out of proportion for her late husband's possessions, in the process obliterating the memory of her husband himself.

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Article Citation

Galef, D. (1998). Fetishism in The Spoils of Poynton. Fotios Sarris.. Psychoanal. Q., 67(1):184

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